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Stephen Byrne: Why 9 years after ripping up my results, I went back to do the Leaving Cert...

The Leaving Cert is strange in the sense that it is something we all experience, and yet it’s something that we all seem to try to repress, writes the 2FM presenter.

Stephen Byrne

Stephen Byrne is a 28-year-old radio and television presenter, currently with 2FM, who began working in media during at the start of his Leaving Cert year of 2008. Last year he went back on a personal mission to do the state exams again, to prove something about the system, himself and Ireland’s youth. 

SOMETIMES IT’S NECESSARY to go back to find out who you were to find out who you are right now.

When people heard that I was doing the Leaving Cert again this year for a documentary, the reactions varied – but the one thing that remained consistent was that everyone always brought it back to themselves and their own experiences.

‘I would never do that, it was hell for me,’ or ‘I still have recurring nightmares of my Maths Paper One.’

The Leaving Cert is strange in the sense that it is something we all experience, and yet it’s something that we all seem to try to repress.

I tried so hard that I never even opened by first results… but we’ll get back to that in a minute. 

I’ve always been a big believer in facing your fears to get them under control, even at the expense of other people’s opinions.

I had a crippling fear of heights.

Even an easy journey traversing across the mammoth peaks of Dun Laoghaire shopping centre’s second floor would turn my legs into a substance only consistent with the jelly my nan insisted on serving us with custard every time we visited her.

So I went on multiple skydives.

I spent the first few years of my life living in Australia in constant unease that behind every cupboard, or underneath every toilet seat was a snake trying to plot my demise. So I bought a pet snake. Her name is Miss Hiss, you’d love her. 

So why did the Leaving Cert carry so much haunting memories for me personally?

I spent that year living in fear of who people thought I was and who I didn’t want to be.

I came out about a month before the exams and made life very difficult for my incredible parents. I was angry – angry that I was gay and angry that I didn’t have any true friends. I just wanted to run away.

It’s a time that myself and my parents have locked in the past and never really spoken about. For me, because I was deeply ashamed for so long and, for them, because they never wanted to re-live that stress that I caused them with the anger I held, and how much they worried about me.

It’s often easy to ignore pain, but every wound needs to be healed… leaving it too long only causes more infection.

In the same way, in August 2009, I ran home and shredded my Leaving Cert results because I didn’t want to have to face where that anger had left me standing.

There was nothing in that envelope I didn’t already know about my application and I was so afraid it would make me define parts of who I was. As the years went on and my career progressed, it became somewhat of a novelty to others that I’d never touched them but to me that year followed me around like a ghost waiting to be laid to rest. 

I knew it was the right time to go back last year but not for the reasons others believed.

A free schedule and a sound mind would probably have been an attractive time to begin but I had neither.

For a multitude of reasons, last year was, again, incredibly tough. I had lost an enormous amount of trust, love and motivation within myself and as hard as I tried it wouldn’t shake.

I could only relate the feeling to one other time in my life and that was 2009, that year we’d all locked away.

I went back to understand myself, to destroy the barrier I had put up that separated my adolescence and adulthood, to put myself through hell in hope that on the other side I could find confidence in myself again.

I was afraid to tell anyone how I was truly feeling because they might say I wasn’t fit to complete the task ahead but, in my mind, I was more equipped than anyone.

Leaving Again photo by Gregory Dunn-16 HR Source: Greg Dunn/RTE

Students all across this country are struggling with the simple act of getting out of bed in the morning, the pressures of leading a perfect existence inflicted by a mosaic of distorted lives projected constantly across their scrolling eyes.

They’re creating two minds running parallel, one trying to understand De Moivre’s theorem, the other trying to understand who they are, and what they want from the world.

To talk about what I’ve learned from the year that’s gone is very difficult, do you want facts or do you want observations?

I can tell you everything you don’t need to know about the Paris Basin, or maybe how the youth of this country are something we should all take immense pride in?

They’re progressive, emotionally intelligent and yet living in a world with so many more social pressures than many of us had before.

They live in fear of failing, disappointing themselves and their parents.

Surely they have enough to weigh themselves down already; seriously, you should feel the weight of my school bag.

Anyway, I better go, it’s nearly October and I still haven’t got anything to wear for my debs…

Leaving Again airs tonight, 20 September at 10.15pm on RTÉ One. It is Byrne’s second documentary for RTÉ, previously tackling the issue of homophobia in football.  

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Stephen Byrne

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